Sunday, August 17, 2014


When I decided to write an historical novel on el Camino de Santiago, set in the 12th century, I didn't realise that the biggest challenge would be to find sufficient research material for that era. 

If you don't read French or Spanish it can be daunting to find enough research material in English on the pilgrimage to the tomb of St James the Greater in Spain.
It is even more challenging if you live on the east coast of South Africa, a part of the country where English settlers only arrived in the 1820's and where the libraries have very little on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  One has to rely on the Internet and/or on books one can buy.  Thank heavens for the World Wide Web and for online book stores! 

Where does one start?

When I was starting my research for PILGRIM FOOTRPINTS ON THE SANDS OF TIME my creative writing teacher suggested I do research on the Doomsday book in order to find a suitable village where my main characters would come from.  I decided on the south of England and found a charming village with a wonderful website that included a lot of information on the history of their village, village life, their industries, houses, church and churchyard.  My main characters are people with the same name as a family buried in the churchyard.

For el Camino de Santiago specific research I bought the following books.

The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago - David M Gitlitz & Linda K Davidson
A Practical Guide for Pilgrims - Millán Bravo Lozano
The Pilgrim’s Guide: 12th Century Guide for the Pilgrim to St James of Compostela: translated from the Latin by James Hogarth
The Road to Santiago – Walter Starkie
The Pilgrimage to Santiago - Edwin Mullins
The Pilgrim Guide to Santiago de Compostela - Annie Shaver-Crandell and Paula Gerson
Being a Pilgrim – Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago – Kathleen Ashley and Marilyn Deegan
Jacobean Pilgrims from England to St James of Compostela - Constance Mary Storrs Walking to Santiago - Mary E Willkie
Pilgrim Stories - Nancy Louise Frey
Spanish Pilgrimage - A Canter to St James - Robin Hanbury-Tenison
Atlas of Medieval Europe – Matthew
London, The Biography – Peter Ackroyd
Paris Pilgrim: Hilary Hugh-Jones and Mark Hassall
Body and Soul, Hospitality Through the ages on the Roads to Compostela: CSJ Confraternity of St James Conference Proceedings.
Reading Medieval Studies: Volume XVI 1990 – Brian Kemp
1990 Conference Papers - British pilgrims to Santiago in Middle Ages.
The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
Domesday Heritage – Towns and Villages of Norman England through 900 Years.
The Collins Guide to France – edited by John Ardagh
The Way of Saint James, Vol. I by Georgiana Goddard King
The Way of Saint James, Vol. II by Georgiana Goddard King
The Way of Saint James, Vol. III by Georgiana Goddard King

Good luck with your research!

Monday, June 23, 2014

22nd June: Fisterra

We had a long lie in and didn't get out of bed until nearly 8am.  What luxury! We were the first to breakfast, then John joined us, then Gail and Marlene. After breakfast I tried to sort out the Ryanair boarding passes but the pdf file downloaded in some strange format that couldn't be printed.  I decided to wait until we got back from Finisterre and do them then.
Penny came down to say goodbye and then John said goodbe as well. Bob didn't want to go to Fisterra so the 4 of us (Finn, Gail,  Marlene and I) walked down to where the taxis park next to the hospederia.  The last taxi in the queue had a lady driver and I asked her what the charge would be to Fisterra.  Because it was Sunday it was €120. We agreed on the price but she told us that we shouls ask the first taxi in the queue, or phone her and meet her elsewhere. She spoke English and looked like a lovely person so I took her card and we walked around the corner where I called her. Soon we were in her taxi and off to Fisterra.
I can't recommend Sonia Fernandez highly enough. On the way she stopped at Puente San Marino so that we could take photographs of the bridge and the rapids. One the way she pointed out places of interest so it was like having our own tour guide.
When we got to Corcubion she stopped at the albergue San Roque so that I could show the others where I had served in 2009. She also stopped at the statue of the pilgrim so that we could take photos.
We spent some time at the Faro and then had lunch at Finisterre.  It was Corpus Christi so the village was packed and there was a procession, lots of flowers and music.  We got back to Santiago feeling that we had made a new friend and arranged with Sonia to fetch us the next day at 7am to take us to the airport.
Taxi no. 137, tel: 696852320
I continued to struggle with the Ryanair boarding passes so ended up conracting Greg in South Africa to diwnload the pdf files and send them to tbe hospederia.  In 5 minutes all the boarding passes were done!

21st June - SANTIAGO!!!

After breakfast, Ignacio drove us back to the cafe-bar where we started walking to Santiago. Most of the walk was on pavements through residential areas. At one stage we could see the towers of the cathedral, one encased in scaffodling.
Finn was struggling today so we walked quite slowly but soon we approached the church of St Francis and and entered the Obradoiro Square with the parador on the right. Gail and I held the South African flag (my old sitting plastic) whilst John took a video of us walking in. Bob decided that he wasn't going to sit through the mass with his sore throat still bothering him.
We took our packs to the hospederia, left them there and then entered the cathedral through the side gate. Johnnie Walker happened to be sitting in the back aisle waiting to do the 10.30am service in the English chapel. He showed us where he had reserved seats for us in the front row of the short aisle. We arranged to meet again at 11.30am. The botafumeiro was hanging so we knew that it would swing at the 12pm mass.
We walked around the cathedral,  visited the crypt and hugged the saint. We went out past the portico del gloria and stood in the square looking at the cathedral. Then it was time to go back inside.
Johnnie showed us to our seats then he and a volunteer from the Pilgrim Office handed out our certificates,  Compostelas to the team members and a welcome certificate to me. We were all given a distance certificate and one Group certificate in the name of the Camino Caracoles 2014.
The mass was special as always and Finn got to see the botafumeiro for the first time. After the mass we decided to visit the pilgrim office (Marlene's distance certificate had Camino Frances instead of Camino Ingles on it.) On the way there Gail dropped her distance certificate.  We sorted them both out at the pilgrim office before going to The Casino where we had a celebratory lunch.
We went back to the Hospederia and checked in.  Our luggage had arrived so we took everything upstairs including the three boxes Ivar had delivered for me. We decided that we would try to have a queimada at 10.30pm at the Casino and would visit Fisterra tomorrow.
We met downstairs and Bob told us that he hadn't seen a medico yet. His voice was quite hoarse. Finn wasn't feeling great -side effects of the medication. We walked down to the park and sat at a cafe bar. It started to drizzle so we squashed up under an umbrella. Bob decided to go back to the Hospederia. Penny phoned to say that she had found a little pub to have something to eat and would join us 'in a bit'.
Suddenly a strong wind blew and the rain sheeted down.  People all tried to jam into the little bar to sit out a typical Santiago la tormenta.
When the rain let up we went back outside and soon Penny joined us. We thought we would try her bar for tapas but it was very small and quite crowded. So, we went back to the Casino but their kitchen was closed so we  couldn't have anything to eat.
The television was on with a soccer match blaring and when it was 10.30pm we asked if we could have the queimada the waiter told us only after the game, another half an hour to wait. We decided not to wait and so we drifted off back to the Hospederia leaving Gail and Penny and another bar to have a night cap.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

20th June - Sigueiro

Ignacio took us back to Sigueiro and we started off across the river Tambre. Soon we turned left and passed a modern church on the right. We carried on up the road and a car stopped us telling us that we should have turned at the church. We marched back down the hill. There is no yellow arrow indicating a right turn but on the wall halfway up the driveway was a scallop shell on the wall. We walked the 4.5 km to the Hotel and stopped for a drink before continuing on our way. We decided to walk 11km to a Cafe bar where Ignacio could collect us. It was a pleasant walk through forests and farms.
Ignacio picked us up and took us back to town where Bob visited the farmacia about his sore throat. They wouldn't give him anything unless he had a prescription. We had lunch and then Gail and I decided to take Finn to a medical clinic as the spots on his forehead were looking really angry. We invited Bob to come with us but he declined.
The lady in the farmacia told us to walk up to a round about and turn left. We couldn't see a clinic so asked a man with his dogs for directions. It was on the opposite side of the road so we traipsed down the road and asked again. The clinic was next to the swimming pool. We saw a lady doctor who gave us a report for a dermatologist at the hospital in Santiago.
We took a taxi from Sigueiro to the general hospital in Santiago and after a long wait in a very crowded waiting room we saw two dermatologists who diagnosed shingles.  In Spanish they call it Herpes, which doesn't sound so good! They gave him a prescription and we got a taxi to a farmacia to get his pills and then back to Hotel San Vicente.
What a group we are! Me with an arm in a cast, Finn with Shingles, Bob with a bad throat, Marlene with blistered feet and Penny with an aching heel.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

19th - Sigueiro and the Hotel San Vicente

Some wanted to stay for breakfast and some not, so Juan gave us fruit to take with us when we set off at 7h30.
We knew that it would be the longest walk for some so we got the numbers of 2 taxis in case they needed to be rescued.
Gail, Finn and I set off about half an hour before Penny, Marlene,  Bob and John. It was a very pretty walk through shady forests,  across streams and a few small hamlets.
After 5km we reached the Cafe Bar Cruceiro but it was closed. After another 5km we reached the bus stop at A Bruta.  Then came a 4km long, flat, tiring trek through a man made forest with hardly a bird and no creatures to be seen or heard.
At the end of the forest we came to a bus stop at Oroso. This was the 14km mark where we'd planned to call the hotel San Vicente to fetch us. After a short  rest we decided to walk the last 2 km into Sigueiro. Gail sent a message to the other group and we started walking again.
Besides one wrong turn at a busy intersection where we had to retrace our steps, the signs and waymarks were excellent today.  Soon we arrived at the swimming pool in Sigueiro and stopped at the cafe bar for cold drinks and ice cream.
We let the others know where we were and decided to wait for them before calling the hotel to fetch us. Marlene, Bob and John arrived about an hour after we'd arrived. Penny, who had decided not to walk the extra 2 km, phoned to say that she was on her way in the hotel taxi to fetch us. They arrived a few minutes later and we were taken to the hotel.
After we had checked in we walked to the cafe bar close by and had cold drinks and tapas. Then we went back to the hotel to rest with plans to meet at 6pm in the bar. We had the hotel's 3 course meal (€14) and arranged to meet downstairs at 7am for breakfast and thereafter, a lift back to Sigueiro so that we can start walking our penultimate day to Santiago.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

18th June - Buscas (Ordes)

I thought that the Casa Dona Maria was in Ordes but its not. It's about 4km from Ordes and that meant that we only walked 8 km today and have to make up 4 km somewhere in the next 3 days.
We met downstairs after breakfast and turned left at the first road after the Meson do Novo. After taking a wrong turn,  Penny checked the map on her iPad and guided us to another road which lead us to the right path.
It was en easy walk today and before we knew it we were in Buscas. The Casa Dona Maria was closed so we sat at the Cafe Bar across the road and had cold drinks. Soon after Juan arrived and invited us into the Casa. What a beautiful place! Built in 2009 it is tastefully decorated with double rooms and self-contained apartments.  At €55 per room with breakfast, it's not over priced.
Our room was up a wooden staircase with a fanned bend and Finn almost came tumbling down when his foot slipped off the narrow edge and he fell but managed to hold onto the railing.  He lost a bit of skin on his left arm and was quite shaken.
I needed to add luggage to our Ryanair flight from Santiago to Barcelona on Monday so sat downstairs working on the tablet while some played table tennis or sat in the beautuful garden. I also worked out a new walking schedule with 14km tomorrow, 12km on Friday and 10km on the last day.
Juan and Maria made our dinner, a wonderful ensalada mixta with walnuts, apple and orange segments for starters, one with and one without tuna. Second course was steak and chips for the meat eaters and a vegetable canneloni bake for the vegetarians. It smelled so good that everyone wanted to taste it. Then they brought crepes with a custard filling and strawberries.  Wine, water, beer or cold drinks were included. We all agreed that it was one of the better meals we'd had - and then we got the bill! €25 per person! Pshew - we wished we'd asked before we'd said yes to dinner!
Gail, Finn and I decided that we wouldn't wait until 8am for breakfast but would get an early start for the 14km day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

17th June - Bar Julia to Meson do Novo.

Antonio drove us back to Bar Julia this morning. It is a narrow, winding road and we rocked and rolled as he took the corners, forever descending into the valley. We felt quite nervous about having to hike all the way back up to the top of the ridge.
Bob and John started walking first and Gail, Marlene, Finn and I followed. Penny was dropped at the top of the hill so she had a head start.
It took us an hour to hike up the 3km to the top. The first bit isnt too bad. Then there is a steep section, a slightly flatter bit on the tarred road,  followed by a steeper section on a forest path.
We were all proud of ourselves to make it without feeling too shattered.  John and Bob - who said he didnt think it was nearly as bad as people said it would be - were waiting for us at a picnic site but we decided to carry on and find another stop further down the road.
Eventually we arrived at a hamlet with a few houses,  one which was locked and shuttered. It had a wide, shady verandah which we thought would make a perfect place to stop.   I knocked on the door of the house across the road where a woman was mopping her front steps.  She told us that we co8uld have a rest there with pleasure so we spread our sitting plastics on the front steps and made cheese rolls with Membrillo.
Gail and Marlene dont like to pee in the bush so tbey always find a house with a kind owner and beg to use their loos. They used the loo across the road and we continued on our way.
Soon we arrived at Bruma and walked through the village to the albergue. It wasnt going to open till one but we thought it would be nice to get a sello here as none of the churches we had passed had been open for sellos. We gave our credenciales to John and Marlene and headed off in the direction of Meson do Vento, about 1.5km away. There are no arrows on this section so we made arrows out of stones for John and Marlene to follow.
When John and Marlene arrived about half an hour later they told us that the hospitalero had become very agitated and angry when he realised that we weren't staying in the albergue and refused to stamp the credenciales. He practically chased them away and had to be calmed down by a Spanish pilgrim. So, no albergue stamp for us on this route.
Bob had lunch at the hotel across the road, Finn and I walked to the Farmacia where I bought new sunglasses, and to the ferreteria to buy batteries.
After finding out that the hotel restaurant only served dinner at 8:30pm, we decided to stay at the meson and have a light meal there. We shared 2 bowls of salad, patata tortilla, bowls of tuna, platter of sliced ham and a plate of cheese. It was wonderful and she was very chuffed when we told her that it was the best meal we'd had so far on the Camino.

Monday, June 16, 2014

16th -17th June - Meson do Vento

Today we got a taxi back to Cos and started walking from there. It was a lovely day's walking through rural hamlets and forests. There were one or two short hills and a tricky little dirt path up to the ridge before going down to the road and Casa Julia.
We stopped gor a drink at the bar and I explained to the young man behind the bar that I had spent 2 hours here in 2009 waiting for Antonio from Meson Novo to fetch us (which he never did!). He called his mother,  Amelia, who wad in the kitchen and rembered the incident well.
This time Antonio fetched us and 20 min later we were in our rooms at Meson do Novo. There is no restaurant here so we had a late lunch at a place at the other end of the town. There is a farmacia, a couple of banks (incl ATMs) and two small supermecados. Tomorrow Antonio will take us back to Casa Julia and we will walk to Bruma from there.
It is quite a leap of faith for us to hang our washing on a line just a few meters from a busy road! We couldnt help thinking that if this was home, the clothes would be gone in next to no time!
Antonio's mother offered to make supper and some of the group shared salad and tortilla.
It is still daylight after 10pm so we have to roll down blinds and draw curtains when we go to bed. In one place the light on the tv kept flashing, in another the 'Salida' (exit) light was brighter than the bedside light, and in some places we've hung clothing or towels over the lights to darken the room when we go to sleep.